Diarist-at-large Richard Ackland flys about the nation. By Richard Ackland.

Bolt cutters leave no Marx

A distressing time for newspaper provocateur A. Bolt. The champion of community standards has any number of things in his firing line, but recent missions have included getting our free speech up to scratch and taking aim at lefty types, such as media academic Martin Hirst of Deakin University. 

Hirst posted on Twitter a snap of himself next to Karl Marx’s grave at Highgate Cemetery in London. What you might have thought was a harmless enough exercise in free speech set aflame some of the News Corp hacks and others on Twitter, all taking unpleasant potshots at AssPro Hirst. 

Soon Bolt was on the case, with an item bemoaning the fact that here was a man who “paid homage to Marx” and who taught journalism at Deakin, “which presumably wants its graduates equipped to work for big media organisations such as News Corp”. 

What a glittering prize that would be. 

When Hirst had enough of the trolls he used a popular four-letter word to tell them where to go. Bolt was livid and posted the comments, whereupon Deakin suspended Hirst without pay for misconduct, bringing the university into disrepute, etc. 

Interestingly, Hirst’s legal advice was that using the word “fuck” in no way brought the university into disrepute. Let’s hope Mike Carlton at The Sydney Morning Herald hires the same lawyers. 

Now Deakin has had the temerity, in defiance of Bolt and other leading thinkers, to reinstate Hirst. 

The indignity didn’t stop there, for a week later Prime Minister Tony Abbott, with a heartbroken Soapy (Bigot) Brandis standing next to him, announced the end of the “Bolt amendments” to the Racial Discrimination Act. 

This is the same Abbott who called around to the home of the entertaining scribbler to say the nation needs him, as together they shed tears in their shandies about the outcome of the Federal Court decision in Eatock v Bolt. Now, we all have to keep our lips buttoned on those delicious bigoted thoughts that are bursting to get out in the free speech marketplace. 

Thursday’s Free Speech Symposium, arranged by Human Rights Commissioner Tim Wilson, was designed to relaunch the case for the abolition of section 18C. In the end, even Soapy didn’t show.

Phuff, fizzle, splutter. 

1 . Amazing race

At least Freedom Boy hasn’t felt overly constrained by 18C’s throttling of our expression.  

Someone on Twitter called @vote_pyne reported a radio interview on 3AW from June, which went like this: 

Norm (a caller): “There’s only one race and that’s the human race.” 

Tom Elliott: “We’re all people.” 

Tim Wilson: “There are big differences in terms of skin colour and cultural background.” 

Tom Elliott: “Those are only minor things.” 

Tim Wilson: “They are only minor things but they have a very big impact on who we let into the country.” 

We emailed Freedom Boy to check and back came a tweet that reflects some revised thinking since June: “Aus had disgraceful White Aus Policy that decided migration based on race. Disgraceful. Took too long to repeal.” 

Is that clear? 

2 . Privacy report kept private

Human Rights Commissioner Wilson was all worked up that our privacy may be under threat courtesy of the data retention regime being hatched by his pal and sponsor, Attorney-General Brandis

For his part, Brandis issued unctuous reassurances. Privacy will be protected, don’t you worry about that. 

Interestingly, the Australian Law Reform Commission’s report on privacy is sitting in Brandis’s desk, and at the time of Gadfly’s deadline had not been released to the wider world. Bookshelves has 15 sitting days after taking delivery of the report to table it, and his track record is to leave this task right to the last moment. 

In the ALRC’s pre-report discussion paper on privacy there was a proposal that bears on what’s been happening in Victoria, with an Age journalist’s lost tape recorder that had captured all sorts of private ruminations from politicians. The tape ended up in the hands of Labor Party backroom boys. 

In Victoria there is no prohibition on recording people without their permission, as there is in NSW, Queensland and other states. 

The discussion paper recommended that there be uniform or at least consistent surveillance device legislation, which would be protective of private conversations. 

Brandis is on record as saying he’s not particularly interested in the ALRC’s privacy reference. Just as well for The Age

3 . A new Brandis of justice?

More and more, people are asking, “What’s to become of Brandis?” Surely, he’s made such a prize goose of himself that he can’t last as attorney-general. 

The PM quite likes the stamp of Western Australian right-winger Christian Porter, now in the house of representatives. 

Porter as WA A-G brought some badly needed Lawn Order to the sandgropers and he’s just the man to take over as Commonwealth attorney-general. 

Appointing Brandis to Susan Crennan’s upcoming vacant spot on the High Court would work a treat. He would be as wildly popular as Queensland’s chief justice, Tim Carmody

4 . Budget’s big bottom line

The Abbott government’s failure to let the race monkey out of the bottle has also upset the Melbourne “think tank”, the Institute of Paid Advocacy. 

No matter, it has plenty of other important missions to pursue. 

Louise Staley is the IPA’s food policy person and she has a healthy interest in obesity. She is also the Liberal candidate in the Victorian seat of Ripon. 

In a recent post on the IPA website Louise makes the point that obese people are cheaper on the budget than healthy weight non-smokers. Those healthy non-smokers live longer, so they have old-age issues, draw pensions and live in old people’s homes for ages and ages. 

What a waste of resources. 

Fatties, however, die more quickly, so saving the taxpayers a small fortune: “It is true that obesity, like smoking, is correlated with a range of cancers and other diseases, however, these diseases tend to kill the obese before they have the opportunity to require the usual expensive medical interventions of old age such as ophthalmology, hip replacements and post-stroke care.” 

Pass the Krispy Kremes. 

5 . Fiddly fundraiser

Sunday evening was a gorgeous escape for your Gadfly, flopped as he was in a smart eastern suburbs lounge room by Sydney Harbour, a glass of fermented liquid in his pulvillus. 

Photographer Anthony Browell and his partner Jan Howlin have for years been putting on musicales at their home, to help support budding talent. Last Sunday was special, with 15-year-old prodigy Grace Clifford on violin, introduced to the lounge lizards by none other than Margaret (Throbbers) Throsby from My ABC.  

Grace is moving in September to Philadelphia to study at the Curtis Institute of Music. Accompanied on the piano by Julia Brimo she played some Franz Schubert, then we all ate some marinated chicken wings, followed by a solo sonata by Eugène Ysaÿe, which was so good everyone dropped their finger food on the floor and down the side of couches. 

The evening was a sort of informal fundraiser for the Open Academy Rising Stars program at the Sydney Con, where brilliant Ms Clifford had held a scholarship since 2011. 

Stuart Greenbaum’s “The Infinite Heartbeat” and Maurice Ravel brought up the rear. Spirits soared.

Tips and tattle: [email protected]

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on August 9, 2014 as "Gadfly: Bolt cutters leave no Marx".

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Richard Ackland is The Saturday Paper’s legal affairs editor. He publishes

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